Frederick High School might not be the first place you’d think would have a successful agriculture program. But one teacher there has something to say about that.
The Maryland Agriculture Teachers Association (MATA) recently awarded its Teacher Turn the Key Scholarship Award to Richard Stonebraker, an agriculture instructor at Frederick High.
“It is most important to teach agriculture at what many consider an ‘inner-city’ school because we are educating the future leaders of our world that will be tasked with securing our food, fiber and natural resources,” Stonebraker said. “Showing students that we can still make educated decisions about our earth, grow healthy and nutritious food, and care for our natural resources, even in a city setting is amazing. Inner-city students deserve the same experiences as students in other locales.”
The award is given to agriculture instructors in the state who are within their first three years of teaching. Stonebraker will be starting his third year this upcoming school year.
“My jaw dropped open,” Stonebraker said. “I was kind of shocked because I know I’m not the only new ag teacher in the state.”
For Stonebraker, the award is validation for choosing a career he’s always wanted. A former FCPS student himself, Stonebraker graduated in 2007 from Linganore High School, where he served as president of the school’s FFA chapter.
He majored in agricultural science at the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore, and went on to work for the U.S. Department of Agriculture for four years.
“But I always wanted to be an ag teacher,” Stonebraker said.
He got the position at Frederick High after a former ag teacher retired. Stonebraker said he loves teaching and working in agriculture because every day is different.
“There isn’t a single day that’s boring. I remember being a student in school, and other classes, to me, got pretty boring after a while,” Stonebreaker said. “But in my agriculture classes, as a student, it was like every day there was something new, it was fun, it was hands-on.”
He says many students have come back to visit him and expressed their gratitude for learning skills that can be applied in everyday life and realizing that college is not the only path to a successful career.
“For the longest time we put so much emphasis on students going away to college that we forgot about trade school, and now we’re starting to see that boom again,” Stonebraker said. “A lot more of them are recognizing ... they can go to trade school, pay less money and come out ... and not have any student loan debt.”
Stonebraker pointed out, though, that agriculture is still a struggling industry, and ag teachers in the state of Maryland are disappearing.
He hopes that through his classes, he can teach students how important the industry is, and the impact it has on necessities.
“The number one thing I always tell my students, I say, ‘no farms, no food,’” Stonebraker said. “That is why agricultural education is so important because especially here in Maryland, with farmland disappearing, we still have to feed our economy and agriculture plays such a huge role in that.”
Stonebraker hopes to use the award to help continue agriculture education. The award provides professional development for new agriculture teachers such as opportunities to attend workshops and receive resources for the classroom.
Stonebraker is one of seven teachers in Frederick County who were recognized by MATA. Others include Sara Seiser and Sarah Shriner from Middletown High School and Tom Hawthorne from Linganore High School, who taught Stonebraker when he attended Linganore.
“FCPS has the largest agriculture education program of public school districts in Maryland,” Kristine Pearl, FCPS Career and Technology Education supervisor, said in a statement. “We are extremely proud of the excellent instruction our teachers deliver in this field.”
Stonebraker agreed, saying he appreciates the accolade not just for him, but for all teachers.
“Teachers, they really do get the bottom of the barrel. We do the greatest work and yet we’re not always recognized, so it’s nice ... when you’re recognized for the work that you’re doing,” Stonebraker said.